Last weekend I made it to the amazing exhibition of Sargent watercolors at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Once inside, I and the whispering mob of Red Sox game proportions spread out within the expansive nine room display of landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, and daily life scenes painted during the first decades of the 20th century. There were artists remarking on Sargent’s details, techniques, and construction, and others discussing the historical context of his paintings. I preferred to stand back and take in the the paintings from a more photographic point of view.
How did he use composition, “exposure”, and framing to draw the eye in and highlight the subject? I saw S-curves and thirds (eg Simplon Pass Chalets), framing and asymmetry (eg Landscape), and scenes that surely would have required HDR techniques to photograph (eg Under the Rialto Bridge). Many verged on hyperrealistic (eg Mountain Fire), and surely represented the scenes as he experienced them, not simply as they were.
I came across two photos in my library that reminded me of some of these pieces. These are the views inland and northward on a trail above Ribera Beach in Carmel, taken during the late afternoon. I think it’s the limited color palette and the focus on shapes and patterns that remind me of the watercolors.